I played through Until Dawn on the PS4. I encountered no technical issues whatsoever.
I love a good horror movie. And even better than a good horror movie is a really bad one. I ran through every horror movie on Netflix in about six months and am now going through Amazon Video. I think my love for the genre almost stems from the generic plot lines, the unreasonable gore and the cookie-cutter characters. I can stick a horror flick on and feel safe in the knowledge that I pretty much know how it’s all going to play out. This, coupled with the fact that occasionally one will surprise me or offer an interesting monster design, keeps me hooked on the genre. For example, The Cabin in the Woods is one of my favourite films of all time.
In sneaks Until Dawn, a Playstation exclusive which seems pretty much tailor-made for folks like me. Until Dawn is very much an interactive horror movie, written to fit perfectly in the pantheon of the most utterly shlockiest of shlock that the film medium has to offer. A group of teenagers gather at a remote woodland cabin to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a tragedy where they lost two friends. The victims of a misguided prank, Hannah and Beth rushed off into the woods and met their demise at the bottom of a rather pointy cliff. Their brother, Josh, decides the cabin would be the perfect place to celebrate their lives. Unfortunately, a masked killer seems to agree as he starts to hunt down the guilty parties one by one.
Such is the premise and to say anything else would be a rather big spoiler. However at a point, Until Dawn takes a turn and becomes something a bit different. In the interest of a relatively free spoiler review, I am going to steer clear of any comment on this aspect as much as I can. The story of Until Dawn crams in a lot of horror tropes. The secluded cabin and dumb randy teens are written perfectly but some elements just seem random. For example, a Ouija board comes into the mix for ten minutes, does some spooky stuff and is then swiftly forgotten. They also weirdly can’t say ‘Ouija’. It’s a ‘Spirit Board’. I assuming it’s because of that movie ‘Ouija’. Now that’s a bad horror movie.
Until Dawn looks incredible, easily being one of the prettiest titles on the Playstation 4. Lighting effects are truly stunning, with God rays peeking through trees and dust particles floating through interiors. Characters are fully motion-captured portrayals of the actors themselves, further giving the illusion that this is something you might see at the cinema. There are a few familiar faces with Hayden ‘Save The Cheerleader, Save The World’ Panettiere and Peter ‘Abruzzi’ Stormare leading the cast. There will definitely be some of the others that make you think too. (Is that the guy from Agents of Shield?? Yes. Yes it is.)
Performances are strong and suitably cheesy for the subject matter. Stormare ,in particular, seems to be having a grand old time trying to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible. Every element of the presentation is perfect. The characters can sometimes look a little awkward, but that is more down to the infamous ‘uncanny valley’.
The gameplay of Until Dawn is not really gameplay as such. You are very much watching the action unfold, but it is your job to assume the roles of the teenagers in the story and make decisions for them at key moments. These decisions could be nothing at all, they could affect how another character feels about you, or they could mean death. One action, no matter how small, could change everything. Until Dawn calls this the ‘Butterfly Effect’, which is convenient because so does everyone else. Indeed, it’s a little too on-the-nose, especially when there’s bloody butterflies everywhere, but it does the job. Decisions do indeed matter, and as you go through your playthrough, you will feel like you are creating your own experience.
However, when you pull the curtain back, there isn’t as much to it as it would have you believe. There are things that are set in stone, and won’t change. There’s only set places where a character is actually in danger of kicking-the-bucket. Until Dawn is still a marvel, with a really impressive level of interactivity, but I was feeling that more would change from playthrough to playthrough. The sad reality of introducing the ‘Butterfly Effect’ makes one think that every single decision, every missed button press will actively change everything, and that’s just not the case here.
There are other elements of Until Dawn that don’t quite realise their full potential. A rather extensive character profile screen is available for every one of the teenagers, where you can see certain characteristics change depending on how you play. You can also see your relationship with everyone else. You do get different dialogues with characters which is really cool, but you don’t really see the impact all these bars really make. In all three of my playthroughs, I didn’t really feel this was important. It is a cool thing to take a look at though.
Until Dawn is something different, (no doubt it will be the subject of many ‘It’s not a videogame!’ comments) but at it’s heart it is a videogame. The scary backdrops of snow covered woods reminded me of the very best in survival horror and the book-ended narrative reminded me of Siren: Blood Curse and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. This game plays you as much as you play it, and at the end of your experience, no matter how many of the little cherubs see the sunrise, you’ll feel satisfied and above all, entertained.
Until Dawn starts strong, but it tries to incorporate too many horror tropes and starts to turn into a bit of a mess. It is salvaged by a system where the narrative branches in many ways depending on your choices. This gives you a sense that you create a unique adventure where anyone can live and anyone can, rather gruesomely, die. Until Dawn is definitely an experience that any horror fan should try. Just maybe stop after one playthrough, because once you start to ‘break’ the game, it reveals itself to be not quite so unique.